17 February 2012

Oppressive atmosphere in Virginia Woolf

Further on in Virginia Woolf's 1938 essay, Three Guineas, we read, "Odour then - or shall we call it 'atmosphere' - is a very important element in professional life... It is true that women civil servants deserve to be paid as much as men; but it is also true that they are not paid as much as men. The discrepancy is due to atmosphere. Atmosphere plainly is a very mighty power. Atmosphere not only changes the sizes and shapes of things; it affects solid bodies, like salaries, which might have been thought impervious to atmosphere. ... there is [also] something in the atmosphere of the private house which deflects the wife's spiritual [equal] share of the common income impalpably but irresistibly towards those causes which her husband approves and those pleasures which he enjoys." (SW 2007 pp. 821, 824)

"Atmosphere plainly is a very mighty power." seems to be the core insight here, and it pertains not just to the historical struggle of women for equality. Atmosphere is that mood cultivated in a society's culture in a given time which exudes its own intangible, but nonetheless - or rather: and therefore - all the more effective, social power. A culture's ethos hangs in the air.

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